Judge moves South Texas mosque suspect case to Victoria

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A Victoria man authorities suspect set fire to a South Texas mosque will be tried in Victoria, a federal judge in Corpus Christi ruled Thursday.

Marq Vincent Perez’s case has moved around since he was arrested in March. Perez, 25, has not been indicted of a crime related to an arson that destroyed the Victoria Islamic Center on Jan. 28, but prosecuting U.S. attorneys have accused Perez as they pursue an unrelated charge against him.

Perez’s parents reached their hands out before them in prayer as lawyers argued before U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi.

Perez’s first court appearance was before a magistrate judge in Corpus Christi who covers both the Corpus Christi and Victoria divisions.  The case was moved to Houston after a federal grand jury there indicted Perez of possessing an unregistered destructive device that they say was used in a fire set to a car.  Sharad Khandelwal, Deputy Criminal Chief of the Major Offenders Section in Houston, said attorneys presented the case to a Houston grand jury because authorities were investigating Perez’s involvement in another crime there.

Perez’s Corpus Christi lawyer, Mark Di Carlo, argued against the move and a federal judge in Houston sent the case to the Corpus Christi division.

U.S. attorneys responded with their own argument that the case should go back to Victoria, where it started. Khandelwal told the judge that Victoria was the proper venue because most of the witnesses and evidence are there.

Di Carlo argued Victoria media outlets unfairly covered Perez and questioned whether he could get an impartial jury.

In a brief hearing, Gonzales Ramos ruled the U.S. attorneys’ arguments justified a transfer to Victoria.

“There is no substantial connection to Corpus Christi,” Gonzales Ramos said.

U.S. attorneys revealed during a bond hearing shortly after his arrest that Perez was a suspect in the mosque fire. The lawyers described it as a hate crime and presented messages and witness testimony that described Perez as hating Muslims and suspecting Victoria Muslims were tied to terrorist organizations. U.S. attorneys have said in court documents they anticipate a grand jury will indict Perez of additional crimes.

Perez, who has no criminal history, has previously disputed the accusations through his lawyer. Di Carlo has pointed out the witness who led authorities to Perez also admitted to being with him when the fire was set at the mosque. And a confidential informant federal authorities have referenced had access to Perez’s home, where items from the mosque were found, Di Carlo has said.

Perez is being held without bail in the DeWitt County Jail in Cuero.

More than $1 million in donations poured into the mosque’s rebuilding efforts within days of the fire.

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